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German magazine sparks furor with Trump cover

David Martin
February 4, 2017

The artist has defended the cover, claiming the comparison between Trump and the so-called "Islamic State" is fair. Detractors have pointed out that such an analogy is lazy and downplays the threat of Islamic extremism.

Deutschland Titelseite DER SPIEGEL - mit Donald-Trump-Karikatur
Image: DER SPIEGEL/Handout via Reuters

Newspapers and magazines around the world have turned to US President Donald Trump for fodder for their front pages.

However, capping off a week that saw the US president sign an executive order banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from traveling to the United States, journals appear to have taken a more somber tone in their depictions of Trump; perhaps none more so than German weekly "Der Spiegel."

Its latest cover has caused a furor and stirred heated debate. Even some of those who don't generally sympathize with Trump's politics see the cover as going too far, even potentially damaging the integrity of the magazine's journalism.

It depicts a recognizable figure of Trump holding up the bleeding head of the Statue of Liberty in one hand, and a bloodstained knife in the other. In this week's editorial, "Der Spiegel" editor-in-chief Klaus Brinkbäumer dubbed the president "Nero Trump," after the notoriously brutal ancient Roman emperor.

Trump's action and pose depicted on the cover clearly invokes that of Islamist terrorist - and that was always its intention.

The cover's illustrator, Edel Rodriguez, a Cuban political refugee in the US, told the "Washington Post" newspaper that he was prompted to channel his anger into the piece of art following Trump's visa ban. 

"It's a beheading of democracy, a beheading of a sacred symbol," Rodriguez said. "And clearly, lately, what's associated with beheadings is ISIS, so there's a comparison. Both sides are extremists, so I'm just making a comparison between them."

Many Americans have welcomed the cover as a reflection of how the rest of the world views the new US president. 

US filmmaker Morgan Spurlock tweeted: "In case anyone was confused, this is how the world sees the new presidency."

Chris Cillizza of the "Washington Post" described the cover as "stunning."

However, German news organization N24 decried the cover and said it did an injustice to journalism. Journalist Clemens Wergin wrote that the cover "confirms the prejudices many people hold, namely that the 'mainstream media' does not report without prejudice and that many journalists prefer to promote their own worldview, rather than objectively report on what is going on in the world."

"Those who allow their own standards to shift will find themselves part of the very zeitgeist that Trump embodies," Wergin added.

Detractors saw conflating Trump with extremism as not just lazy journalism but also as downplaying the very real threat posed by Islamic jihadism. 

Writing in the Daily Wire, right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro described the illustration as "idiotic," especially with Germany facing its own terror threats.

However, while "Der Spiegel's" cover is controversial, those who associate themselves with the self-described alt-right movement - a loose collection of right-leaning nationalistic and white-supremacist pundits -  are no strangers to posting provocative content.

"Der Spiegel" wasn't the only magazine to depict Trump on its cover this week. US magazine "The New Yorker" adopted a non-violent tone, showing the Statue of Liberty's extinguished torch, while British magazine "The Economist" featured Trump sporting a red "Make America Great Again" cap and getting ready to throw a Molotov cocktail. 

Perhaps the most controversial cover this week depicted the president with a sniper's crosshairs superimposed on his head, with a caption reading "Why not." The publication, Ireland's "Village Magazine," ran the cover as part of a feature exploring tyrannicide and democratic law and came to the conclusion that violence was not the answer to differences of opinion with the US president.

He may just be two weeks into his presidency, but Trump has seen that when he attacks the media, the media attacks back. 

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